In the spring of 2007, 22-year-old Janet Moses was possibly suffering a mental disorder. Her whanau believed she’d fallen under the curse of a Mãkutu because her sister had stolen a lion
statue from the Greytown Hotel in the Wairarapa. After seeking advice from a traditional Mãori healer, the family closed rank – shutting off the outside world.
We share the madness of Janet’s last days - in a blurred documentary and sometimes dramatised narrative between the ‘outsiders’ (the police, lawyers, community and spiritual leaders) and the central ‘insiders’ within the four walls; Janet’s aunty Glenys, uncle John, and a 14-year girl. In a desperate bid to free Janet from what they see as her evil spirits, the young men of the family stand guard at the front door of her grandfather’s bedsit. Inside, madness reigns.
For four nightmarish days and nights, the young mother lies on a bed in the lounge while 30 or more family members chant, stomp and pray. Water becomes their weapon to fight evil. As up to six people hold Janet down, sitting on her arms, legs and chest, her whanau form a ‘human chain’ handing each other buckets, pots and containers to pour litres of water into her eyes and down her throat.
There are moments when Janet relents, falling into a trance-like state. At other times she struggles against them, speaking in tongues and fuelling their fight. Temperatures soar, and the atmosphere reaches fever pitch inside the sealed lounge room of the flat where Janet is kept. A neighbour in the suburban street describes hearing what he thought was a haka (war dance).
By the fourth night, Janet is dead – accidentally drowned by her own family. Her grandfather’s bedsit is flooded with water, vomit and urine – but the horror is far from over. Leaving Janet’s body lying in the lounge, the whanau now turn their attention on a 14-year-old girl in the house. They believe the Mãkutu has now infected her.
The documentary follows Janet’s story through the police investigation, arrests, and trial in what was dubbed in court a “crime of love”. The question of whether Janet was suffering from a mental illness or evil curse was left unanswered. In an unprecedented move, the Wellington High Court accepted that the family believed they were fighting a Mãkutu, and in doing so accidentally killed the loved one they were trying so hard to save.